The Fibonacci Sequence Is Everywhere—Even the Troubled Stock Market – By Elizabeth Landau SMITHSONIANMAG.COM MARCH 25, 2020

The curious set of numbers shows up in nature and also in human activities.

The Fibonacci Spiral
Fibonacci spiral (Wiki Commons)

On Friday, as the U.S. stock market closed out its worst week since 2008 amid coronavirus-related turmoil (before recovering somewhat early this week), investors were left with a glaring question: Is it all downhill from here? Amid such economic turbulence, some market researchers look to a familiar, powerful set of numbers to predict the future.

“Fibonacci retracement” is a tool that technical analysts use to guide their outlook about buying and selling behavior in markets. This technique is named after and derived from the famous Fibonacci sequence, a set of numbers with properties related to many natural phenomena. While using these numbers to predict market movements is a lot less certain than using it to calculate sunflower seed patterns, the appearance of the sequence in the field of finance is yet another testament to its power in capturing the human imagination.

What is the Fibonacci sequence?

The Fibonacci sequence is a famous group of numbers beginning with 0 and 1 in which each number is the sum of the two before it. It begins 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and continues infinitely. The pattern hides a powerful secret: If you divide each number in the sequence by its predecessor (except for 1 divided by 0), then as you move toward higher numbers, the result converges on the constant phi, or approximately 1.61803, otherwise known as the golden ratio.

The sequence has a long history. In Europe, it was the solution to a problem of rabbit breeding described in the book Liber Abaci by the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa in 1202 A.D. But the pattern was known in India much earlier, possibly even the seventh century. The sequence’s name comes from a nickname, Fibonacci, meaning “son of Bonacci,” bestowed upon Leonardo in the 19th century, according to Keith Devlin’s book Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World. Mathematician Eduoard Lucas then gave the name “Fibonacci sequence” in the 1870s to the sequence derived from the rabbit scenario. (It has also shown up in counting the numbers of bees in successive generations).

The golden ratio, meanwhile, can be written as one-half of the sum of 1 plus the square root of 5. And while phi does not get a pastry-filled holiday like pi, the constant appears in natural phenomena. The numbers of spirals in pinecones are Fibonacci numbers, as is the number of petals in each layer of certain flowers. In spiral-shaped plants, each leaf grows at an angle compared to its predecessor of 360/phi2, and sunflower seeds are packed in a spiral formation in the center of their flower in a geometry governed by the golden ratio, too.

“The Golden Ratio’s attractiveness stems first and foremost from the fact that it has an almost uncanny way of popping up where it is least expected,” writes Mario Livio in The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number.

But why is this sequence so ubiquitous? “A lot of things in mathematics and probably in the real world are governed by simple recursive rules, where each occurrence is governed by a simple formula in terms of the previous occurrence,” said Ken Ribet, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. “And a Fibonacci number has the simplest possible formula, just the sum of the previous two.”

Fibonacci Goes to the Market

Humans are hardwired to identify patterns, and when it comes to the Fibonacci numbers, we don’t limit ourselves to seeking and celebrating the sequence in nature. Fibonacci and phi can be found in certain works of art, architecture and music (although it is a myth that Egypt’s pyramids have anything to do with it). And while buying and selling behavior is largely unpredictable, some financial analysts swear they can see these numbers at play there, too, including in this current economic crisis.

Close-up of sunflower
Close-up of sunflower (Wiki Commons / Alex M3rcer)

Investment researchers called “technical analysts” look at the historical shapes of charts to determine whether a current buying or selling trend will continue or turn around. Some make their predictions using “Fibonacci retracement levels,” derived from the famous sequence.

Technical analysts may look at a whole suite of numbers corresponding to ratios of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, but a couple of important ones are 61.8 percent and 38.2 percent. Any given Fibonacci number divided by its successor approximates 1/phi, or 0.618. A Fibonacci number divided by the number two places higher in the sequence approximates 0.382.

For example, consider the S&P 500. In the depths of the 2008 recession, the index hit its lowest point in 2009 at 666 points. Since then it has generally been on a longterm upward climb, reaching a peak of 3,393 before the coronavirus-induced plummet in recent weeks.

To make sense of the trends of this current downturn, Katie Stockton, founder and managing partner of the technical analysis firm Fairlead Strategies, LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, is looking at whether key indexes and stocks break through various levels. If you take the 2009 low of 666 as the bottom (0 percent) and the 2020 high of 3,393 as the top (100 percent), Stockton is watching for whether the S&P 500 closes two Fridays in a row below what she identifies as the “support level” of 38.2 percent. That level corresponds to the high of 3,393 minus 1,042 (38.2 percent of the difference between the high and low), which comes to 2351.

So far during the crisis, prices have not dipped so low two Fridays in a row, although on March 20 the index did close at a dismal 2304.92. If it closes out March 27 below that Fibonacci level of 2351, it would be the second strike in a row. This would indicate to analysts like Stockton that the S&P risks sliding down farther to the 61.8 percent level, or about 1708—making now a less optimal time to buy, according to this view.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Ribet, the mathematician, dismisses the notion of looking for Fibonacci-sequence-related patterns to predict markets. But even if it’s not true that Fibonacci numbers relate to fundamental market forces, markets by design react to the beliefs of their players. So if investors buy en masse because of Fibonacci analysis, they create an upward trend anyway; likewise for selling.

Stockton acknowledges that this at least in part explains the movement of gold last year when investors closely monitored whether the price of an ounce would rise beyond a particular Fibonacci level. Gold prices fell significantly from 2012 to 2015, then bounced around between about $1,200 and $1,400 per ounce for four years until June 2019, when it appeared to be on the upswing again.

“That was a big Fibonacci breakout that a lot of folks were watching, even to the extent that it became such a widely followed level that I think there becomes some self-fulfilling property to it,” Stockton said.

The idea that Fibonacci numbers govern human stock trading could be magical thinking, but enough people with the same magical thinking can move markets. As we brace ourselves for more chaos, at least we can all take comfort in knowing the Fibonacci numbers themselves are eternal.

N.K. Jemisin’s new book begins with a virus in New York. Somehow, it’s a joyous read. – Constance Grady Mar 30, 2020, 4:40pm EDT

The City We Became is Jemisin’s follow up to her three-time Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy.

The City We Became by N.K. JemisinLeft: Orbit. Right: Laura Hanifin.

In The City We Became, the new novel by N.K. Jemisin, an infection is spreading across New York City. It spreads rapidly from person to person, and its goal is nothing less than to destroy everything that makes New York a living, breathing, vital organism. To leave it a husk of itself.

The City We Became is strange to read right now in a way that Jemisin — the only person ever to win the prestigious Hugo Award three years in a row — could not possibly have predicted. The infection in her fantasy New York City is a metaphor for colonialism and bigotry and white nationalism. Meanwhile, the real New York City, where I live, has become the center of America’s coronavirus pandemic, and the literal infection here is casting existing bigotry and white nationalism into ever-sharper relief. At times, it does feel as though coronavirus is threatening everything that makes New York a living, breathing, vital organism, and as though it will leave the city nothing but a husk of itself.

But as I read The City We Became, I never once thought, “No, that’s too close,” or, “I’ll just wait and pick this book up in a year.” It is an absorbing and joyful novel, and reading it didn’t just temporarily take me away from the reality of life during a pandemic. It made me more hopeful that when the pandemic ebbs, the vital core of our communities will still remain.

The City We Became is the story of how New York City comes to life

In The City We Became, cities are living beings. But only some cities: those that have been around long enough to develop their own personalities, “as more and more people come in and deposit their strangeness and leave and get replaced by others.” And at the beginning of the novel, New York City is just at the point of coming to life. Of being born.

Only there’s something else out there, an enemy that takes the form of a mysterious and ever-changing Woman in White. And the Woman in White doesn’t want any new cities to be born anywhere.

Once a city is born, it has an avatar, a living human being who is also the living city itself, and who is granted magical powers in order to defend the city from outside intruders. But before New York City’s avatar can fully come into his power, something goes wrong. He falls into a coma. And in his absence, the Woman in White sneaks in, spreading her insidious reactionary politics across the city in an attempt to prevent the city from ever truly coming to life.

Luckily, New York City is made up of smaller cities. It has five boroughs, and each of those boroughs has an avatar of its own. Now, it’s up to the avatars of the five boroughs to come together, stop the Woman in White, and make New York a living city once again.

The five avatars are the heart of The City We Became. Each one symbolizes something unique to their particular borough, and their relationship is what drives everything forward.

Manhattan is Manny, an amnesiac who’s forgotten everything he was before he set foot on his island. He’s a charming but ruthless young black guy, and he manifests his magic powers by flashing cash around like a weapon. Brooklyn is named Brooklyn, and she’s a middle-aged black woman who used to be a rapper and now sits on the city council; her magic comes from music.

The Bronx is Bronca, an elderly Native artist who moonlights between teaching at a community college and ferociously defending her local arts foundation, and Queens is Padmini Prakash, an immigrant grad student who loves pure math but is focusing on finance so she has a better chance of acquiring a work visa once she graduates. Bronca’s power is rooted in Native traditions and histories; Padmini’s comes from theoretical mathematics.

And then there is Staten Island, the resentful and forgotten borough, the borough that never really wanted to be a part of New York City in the first place. In The City We Became, it’s embodied by Aislyn Houlihan, the daughter of an Irish cop who works part time at her local library.

Aislyn, whose power stems from her deep desire to be left alone, regards the rest of the city with suspicion and fear. It is, as the Woman in White tells her, a place of “bad jobs and worse pay, and prancing manbunned baristas who turn up their noses at making just a simple goddamned coffee, and prissy chink bitches who barely speak English but make seven figures gambling with your401(k), and feminists and Jews and trannies and nnnnnnNegroes and liberals, libtards everywhere, making the world safe for every kind of pervert.” And for their part, the other avatars can barely be bothered to remember that Staten Island even exists.

There is a crack in New York City’s unity, one the Woman in White eagerly exploits it as she marshals alt-righters and gentrifiers and racist cops together to keep New York from ever reaching its true potential.

Normally, new books by big-name authors like Jemisin are showered with attention at the trade conference BookExpo, which takes place every year in New York City’s Javits Center at the end of May. But this year’s BookExpo is postponed, and instead the Javits Center is filled with beds: It’s been transformed into an emergency hospital. So has Central Park. This week, a Navy hospital ship sailed past the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor, passing directly beneath Vox’s (empty) New York office on the way. The real New York City feels as though it is on the verge of collapse.

But The City We Became is not a book about how New York falls apart. It’s a love letter to the city’s resilience, and to all the ways it overcomes hatred to rise up stronger than it was before. And by extension, it’s about the rest of us, and the ways in which we must all work together to protect and support one another.

It will give you faith that New York can come back to itself again — and so can all the rest of us, too.

A Wanderer’s Guide to Staying Home, by Paul Theroux – By Paul Theroux March 30, 2020 3:58 pm ET

Coronavirus has led to the temporary death of travel. A veteran voyager offers a few antidotes

A PATH SAFELY TAKEN ‘Walking isn’t challenged by the CDC or the government,’ writes Paul Theroux.

Illustration: Pascal Campion

IN THESE ANXIOUS times, befuddled by uncertainty, we are told not to travel or we’ll get sick. But travel has traditionally been associated with risk and the unknown, and often with illness; yet the warnings are wickeder than that: These days, travel is emphatically linked to death. There are healthy alternatives—the car trip, the bike ride, the long walk—but what if you heed the directive to stay put? There is a whole shelf of books that ruminates on the value of being home.

Consider the compressed but highly original travel book, called “Voyage Autour de ma Chambre” (“A Journey Round My Room”), written by Xavier de Maistre, when he was under house arrest in Turin in 1790 for 42 days. In a deliberate attempt to stave off the boredom of his confinement, De Maistre describes his visits to his mantelpiece and his sofa, and his desk, and much else within his four walls. A soldier and a landscape painter, he wrote (with a wink) of the “new mode of traveling I introduce to the world.”

Emily Dickinson was housebound for much of her life and justified it by writing to a friend, “To shut our eyes is Travel.” Henry David Thoreau rejoiced in his cabin on Walden Pond (but his mother baked him pies and did his laundry). The 12th-century Japanese aristocrat Kamo no Chōmei rusticated himself to a tiny hut in the mountains alone, “a friend of the moon and the wind.” He added in his chronicle of the experience, “The Ten Foot Square Hut and Tales of the Heike,” “My only luxury is a sound sleep and all I look forward to is the beauty of the changing seasons.”

Sulking indoors for the duration of this crisis is an obnoxious thought.

In the Staying Home chapter in my “The Tao of Travel” (2011) I described these literary staycations, and some others. Travelers maddened by the coronavirus warnings may find possible solutions in this anthology. For most people, the advice—amounting almost to a command—to self-isolate means confinement; for habitual travelers it is something like punishment.

But we often encounter a sort of confinement in travel, too: the delayed plane, the stranded bus, the washed-out road or derailed train, and for the wealthy there is splendid isolation in the gated resort or spa. Now these experiences all involve occasions for infection. After nine travel books involving trains and ships and kayaks and chicken buses, I decided that the ultimate freedom in travel lies in the road trip—setting off in your own car.

For my book “Deep South” I drove from my home in New England and meandered in eccentric circles through the south. It was a journey I found so satisfying and enlightening that when the Mexican border became a contentious subject I took to the road again, traveling the length of the border and then across it to Mexico profundo, motoring the length of the country alone into the Chiapas of the Zapatistas. It is possible to be self-isolated in your car journey, but this does not take into account the bacterial risks in restaurants, gas stations or motels. Maybe the ideal would be to make the road trip in rural areas, with camping equipment and food, under the spell of Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year.” I often fantasize about driving north to Quebec, into Montreal and through my ancestral village of Yamaska, and onward past Val-d’Or and the forests and swamps, to pitch my tent on the shore of Hudson Bay, savoring the cold clean air the voyageurs inhaled.

Sulking indoors for the duration of this crisis is an obnoxious thought, and it calls up images of other plagues—the atmosphere of Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague,” the miasma at the end of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice,” and perhaps the most vivid and violent plague description of all, that recounted by Thucydides in his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” the fatalism, misery, lawlessness and fear of the plague in Athens.

“So great a plague and mortality of men was never remembered to have happened in any place before,” in David Grene’s translation. “For at first neither were the physicians able to cure it through ignorance of what it was but died fastest themselves, as being the men that most approached the sick.”

The best antidote to being housebound, the answer to the licensed scolders, is to take a long walk. It was always Thoreau’s habit—his essay “Walking” is inspirational. Walking was William Wordsworth’s passion (at age 70 he climbed Helvellyn, in the English Lake District). Early in his life, the director Werner Herzog walked 500 miles from Munich to Paris to visit the sickbed of fellow director Lotte Eisner. “Tourism is a mortal sin,” Herzog said later, “but walking on foot is a virtue.”

Walking isn’t challenged by the CDC or the government. It is an expression of absolute freedom and it can be accomplished in a safe and solitary way, near home or in the solitude outside of town. One of walking’s greatest benefits is that it allows us time to reflect—on our lives, on our fate, on the state of the world, and figure things out. Solivitur ambulando is the classical prescription, the noble motto of the pedestrian. “It is solved by walking.”

Mr. Theroux’s most recent book is “On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey” ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ).

Judges block Texas, Ohio, Alabama from banning abortion as part of coronavirus response – Jessie Hellmann 03/30/20 05:15 PM EDT

Two federal judges on Monday temporarily blocked Texas, Ohio and Alabama from enforcing a ban on abortions as part of their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote in an opinion Monday afternoon that the ban in Texas, which state officials say is intended to conserve medical supplies, is likely unconstitutional.

“Regarding a woman’s right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly. There can be no outright ban on such a procedure,” he wrote in his order authorizing a temporary restraining order.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a directive earlier this month suspending nonessential medical procedures in an effort to conserve masks and gloves for health workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Several states have issued similar orders, but a divide has emerged between red and blue states about whether abortion is an essential procedure.

Abbott’s order didn’t specifically lay out which procedures are nonessential. But state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) later said that abortion is a nonessential procedure that should be halted during the outbreak, leading clinics in the state to cancel appointments or face criminal penalties and fines.

Paxton’s interpretation of Abbott’s directive “amounts to a pre-viability ban, which contravenes Supreme Court precedent,” including Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion, Yeakel wrote.

“The benefits of a limited potential reduction in the use of some personal protective equipment by abortion providers is outweighed by the harm of eliminating abortion access in the midst of a pandemic that increases the risks of continuing an unwanted pregnancy, as well as the risks of traveling to other states in search of time-sensitive medical care,” he wrote.

Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing abortion providers in Texas, sued over the order last week. Yeakel’s order expires April 13, when he is scheduled to hold a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

“Abortion is essential healthcare, and it’s a time-sensitive service, especially during a public health crisis,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health.

“Many people are already financially insecure and futures are uncertain. We applaud today’s ruling, which will allow us to do what we do best, provide safe and compassionate abortion care to those who need it,” she added.

Hours after Yeakel’s opinion was issued, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett issued a temporary restraining order in Ohio, writing that enforcement would create “a substantial obstacle in the path of patients seeking pre-viability abortions, thus creating an undue burden on abortion access.”

Abortion rights groups including Planned Parenthood also filed lawsuits Monday against officials in Iowa, Oklahoma, Alabama and Ohio to ensure abortion is accessible during the pandemic.

Officials in those states either have said that orders suspending nonessential medical procedures apply to abortions or have issued directives that left providers unclear about whether they are running afoul of the law.

Updated at 7:19 pm

Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms – Carey Gillam Mon 30 Mar 2020 05.15 EDT

Missouri farmer Bill Bader won a $265m jury verdict against Monsanto and BASF after alleging his peach trees were damaged by the illegal use of the herbicide dicamba . Photograph: Bryce Gray/AP

The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.

The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators.

And in some of the internal BASF emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”.

The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba.

In the Roundup system, farmers could spray glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup over the top of certain crops that Monsanto genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with the pesticide. This “glyphosate-tolerant” crop system has been popular with farmers around the world but has led to widespread weed resistance to glyphosate. The new system promoted by Monsanto and BASF similarly provides farmers with genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton that can be sprayed directly with dicamba. The weeds in the fields die but the crops do not.

Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across.

The companies announced in 2011 that they were collaborating in the development of the dicamba-tolerant cropping systems, granting each other reciprocal licenses, with BASF agreeing to supply formulated dicamba herbicide products to Monsanto.

The companies said they would make new dicamba formulations that would stay where they were sprayed and would not volatilize as older versions of dicamba were believed to do. With good training, special nozzles, buffer zones and other “stewardship” practices, the companies assured regulators and farmers that the new system would bring “really good farmer-friendly formulations to the marketplace”.

But in private meetings dating back to 2009, records show agricultural experts warned that the plan to develop a dicamba-tolerant system could have catastrophic consequences. The experts told Monsanto that farmers were likely to spray old volatile versions of dicamba on the new dicamba-tolerant crops and even new versions were still likely to be volatile enough to move away from the special cotton and soybean fields on to crops growing on other farms.

Importantly, under the system designed by Monsanto and BASF, only farmers buying Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds would be protected from dicamba drift damage. Other cotton and soybean farmers and farmers growing everything from wheat to watermelons would be at risk from the drifting dicamba.

According to a report prepared for Monsanto in 2009 as part of industry consultation, such “off-target movement” was expected, along with “crop loss”, “lawsuits” and “negative press around pesticides”.

A 2015 document shows that Monsanto’s own projections estimated that dicamba damage claims from farmers would total more than 10,000 cases, including 1,305 in 2016, 2,765 in 2017 and 3,259 in 2018.

Extract from a 2015 document showing Monsanto’s projections of dicamba claims from farmers.
Extract from a 2015 document showing Monsanto’s projections of dicamba claims from farmers. Photograph: Randles & Splittgerber

To Flatten the COVID-19 Curve, Target the Subconscious – Leslie Zane March 30, 2020

Getting people to comply with social distancing policies is basically an exercise in marketing

To Flatten the COVID-19 Curve, Target the Subconscious
Beachgoers in Florida get much too close to each other on March 20, 2020. Credit: Getty Images

Even now, as fears about COVID-19 have grown across the world, there are still people ignoring warnings. They’re gathering in crowds on beaches or bars (those that are still open). They’re not washing their hands nearly enough. Despite the pleas of government and health officials, some people seem to be doubling down on social gathering rather than social distancing. And because of how viruses travel, these people are endangering the rest of us.

Why do some people believe the response to the coronavirus is an overreaction, while others think it doesn’t go far enough? Why do some arm themselves with masks and disposable gloves and hoard toilet paper while others refuse to change their routine? The answer doesn’t lie simply in their sources of information. It involves something deeper: the subconscious, where the vast majority of decisions are made.

As Yale psychology professor John A. Bargh put it, “When we decide how to vote, what to buy, where to go on vacation and myriad other things, unconscious thoughts that we’re not even aware of typically play a big role.” A study led by John-Dylan Haynes of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin showed that brain activity can reveal a person’s choice long before he or she is even aware of it. Neither rebellious nor compliant behavior is intentional; they are automatic. These two different cohorts are playing out a behavior that’s predetermined in their subconscious, unknown even to themselves.

Years ago, psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his work showing that the human mind has shortcuts (“heuristics”) that overpower rational decision-making. Last year in Knowledge@Wharton, psychology and neuroscience professor Michael Platt and I shared our discovery about what lies inside those shortcuts: intricate networks of brand associations accumulated over time, years in the making—some going as far back as childhood. We call these networks the “Brand Connectome,” named after the human connectome, a map of the brain’s neural connections.

To win people over to a company, product or cause, marketers must fill their Brand Connectome with positive associations. Over 30 years in marketing, I’ve found that when a Brand Connectome has more positive than negative associations, and more positive associations than its competitors, people will switch to that brand.

These associations can be conveyed through cues—particular words, images, sounds and so on. This is why, for example, an M&M’s ad featuring Danny DeVito surrounded by a pool of melted chocolate was so successful. This metaphor instantly associated the brand with bliss and superior, creamy chocolate.

Just as we all have connectomes for brands, we also have them for political campaigns, causes and more. And we have connectomes for health care compliance.

Unfortunately, efforts to improve health care compliance have a long and rather unsuccessful history. A team of researchers dug into more than 100 studies on “therapeutic non-compliance”—people who don’t follow doctors’ recommendations. Efforts to make medications affordable and easy to take weren’t enough. Why not? These measures did not address “psychosocial factors”—underlying beliefs, attitudes and motivations. And in general, the lowest levels of compliance with doctor’s directions came when patients were asked to change their lifestyles. Only a paltry 20 percent to 30 percent of patients did so.

In the case of COVID-19, everyone, not just patients, is being asked to change their lifestyle behavior. It’s the most comprehensive behavior-change initiative in modern history. No wonder so many people remain resistant.

To change minds, officials need to market their message directly to people’s instinctive decision-making mechanism—their “Corona Connectome.”

People’s responses to coronavirus prevention are shaped by cumulative subconscious associations—for example, whether their parents’ approach to health and safety was protective or carefree; whether they lost loved ones to fatal disease; whether they themselves have suffered from serious illness.

To change the connectome of people who are noncompliant, officials need to pack their messages with the right cues that help leverage positive associations quickly. Connect COVID-19 precautions to aspirational movements, like community spirit and local pride, that already exist in the subconscious. Leverage people’s desire to do the right thing for others in all aspects of their lives.

Use imagery of famous people in protective gear delivering food to seniors’ doors. Make adherence, from using antibacterial wipes to staying home, a badge of honor. Feature rap artists, celebrity athletes and movie stars telling people to shelter at home. Use metaphors, like the proactive treatment of a small cancer cell, to explain the importance of stopping the virus as early as possible.


Leaders must act quickly. With each passing day, even people who have been heeding the warnings might become tempted to resume normalcy. It will take a steady influx of messaging to shift people’s behavior. The good news is that if you appeal to the subconscious with the right messages and cues, instincts can be changed quickly and we can flatten the curve.

Read more about the coronavirus outbreak here.

Plagues Tell Us Who We Are – By Thomas J. Bollyky March 28, 2020

The Real Lessons of the Pandemic Will Be Political

To borrow and paraphrase Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous quote about prisons, you can tell a lot about a society by its response to epidemics of infectious disease.

Plagues put a mirror to the societies they afflict.

A pandemic will expose the failures of a government that does not invest in the health of its constituents or address the collective risks that arise when vulnerable groups lack health protections. For such a society, taking those lessons and applying them to reduce the risks of future contagion is surely the better of two possible outcomes.

The Plague Makes the State

The historian Mark Harrison has argued that starting with the first major Black Death epidemic in the fourteenth century, the need to control plagues helped create the modern state. Otherwise, predatory elites were compelled to assume greater responsibility for their constituents’ lives and well-being in order to protect themselves and their workforces.

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The quarantine and isolation measures that helped arrest the bubonic plague proved ineffective against the six pandemics of cholera that swept the United States, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe in the nineteenth century. Societies had to adapt again as a terrifying disease struck seemingly healthy people, killing tens of thousands in the cities of Europe and the United States—and, very likely, many more in India, where the pandemics originated. Quarantine could not contain the microbes that arrived at ports and rail stations. It devolved instead into a tool that nations used to advantage their own merchants and punish other nations.

The United States had little or no sustained public health administration at the time of the first cholera outbreaks. New York City had established a Board of Health in 1805, but the body was staffed by aldermen without relevant expertise or real authority. Most American cities had similarly deficient public health administration. Thousands of pigs, goats, and dogs still roamed city streets in the first half of that century, feeding on refuse and decomposing filth; stories of pigs knocking over city residents and invading their homes regularly appeared in U.S. newspapers at the time. In New York, piles of trash clogged gutters, uncollected for days or weeks.

The United States had little or no sustained public health administration at the time of the first cholera outbreaks.

Taxpayers initially opposed the expense of providing piped clean water and sanitation in New York and many other American cities, but public terror of cholera, typhoid, and other water-borne infections soon overcame their objections. After the cholera outbreak in 1866, New York City established the Metropolitan Board of Health, staffed by medical personnel. Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, and other large U.S. cities followed. These new public health boards banned roaming pigs and goats, forced property owners to connect to the new waterworks, and built sewers at a breathtaking pace.

In 1857, no U.S. city had a sanitary sewer system; by 1900, four out of five urban residents were served by one. The number of municipal waterworks in the United States increased from 244 in 1870 to 9,850 in 1924. The percentage of urban American households supplied with filtered water grew from 0.3 percent in 1880 to 93 percent just six decades later. The improved access to filtered and chlorinated water alone accounted for nearly half of the decline in mortality in U.S. cities between 1900 and 1936.

The reforms that cholera spurred extended beyond the domestic level. Infectious diseases were the first global problem that nation-states realized they could not solve without international cooperation. In 1851, European states gathered for the first International Sanitary Conference to discuss cooperation to reduce the ruinous health and economic costs of responding alone to cholera, plague, and yellow fever. That convention later led to the first treaties on international infectious disease control and—in 1902—the International Sanitary Bureau, which later became the Pan American Health Organization. These international initiatives were the early models for later international treaties and agencies on other transnational concerns, such as pollution, the opium trade, and unsafe labor practices.


Epidemics demonstrate the collective risk that arises from failing to provide health and welfare measures to the most vulnerable. When HIV/AIDS became a pandemic, people in the world’s most impoverished nations died without access to the lifesaving treatments that were in widespread use in wealthy nations for HIV/AIDS and many other infectious conditions. The controversy over this inequity transformed global health, elevating the issue as a foreign policy priority and helping to raise billions of dollars for researching, developing, and distributing new medicines.

Tuberculosis thrives in persistently impoverished communities, especially among those with prolonged exposure to crowded conditions. While the disease is still a leading killer globally, U.S. death rates from tuberculosis fell as authorities enacted public health and welfare reforms, such as adopting child labor laws and extending greater oversight to overcrowded tenements and factories. But the disease still has occasional resurgences. In 1992, rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis soared in New York City among marginalized homeless men, and outbreaks occur all too frequently in the prisons that Dostoevsky saw as bellwethers of civilization.

The historian Christopher Hamlin cautions against the “myth of the good epidemic”: the notion that new outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis, and other infectious scourges might have a salutary effect by motivating needed investment in sanitation and other government reforms. I likewise do not subscribe to that myth. The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease now known as COVID-19, might infect 40 to 70 percent of the world’s population, causing thousands or even millions of deaths. Humankind will not be better off for having had the experience.


Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

Zoom, the video conferencing service whose use has spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claims to implement end-to-end encryption, widely understood as the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. In fact, Zoom is using its own definition of the term, one that lets Zoom itself access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.

With millions of people around the world working from home in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, business is booming for Zoom, bringing more attention on the company and its privacy practices, including a policy, later updated, that seemed to give the company permission to mine messages and files shared during meetings for the purpose of ad targeting.

Still, Zoom offers reliability, ease of use, and at least one very important security assurance: As long as you make sure everyone in a Zoom meeting connects using “computer audio” instead of calling in on a phone, the meeting is secured with end-to-end encryption, at least according to Zoom’s website, its security white paper, and the user interface within the app. But despite this misleading marketing, the service actually does not support end-to-end encryption for video and audio content, at least as the term is commonly understood. Instead it offers what is usually called transport encryption, explained further below.

When mousing over the green lock in the top left of the Zoom desktop app, it says, “Zoom is using an end to end encrypted connection”

Screenshot: The Intercept

In Zoom’s white paper, there is a list of “pre-meeting security capabilities” that are available to the meeting host that starts with “Enable an end-to-end (E2E) encrypted meeting.” Later in the white paper, it lists “Secure a meeting with E2E encryption” as an “in-meeting security capability” that’s available to meeting hosts. When a host starts a meeting with the “Require Encryption for 3rd Party Endpoints” setting enabled, participants see a green padlock that says, “Zoom is using an end to end encrypted connection” when they mouse over it.

But when reached for comment about whether video meetings are actually end-to-end encrypted, a Zoom spokesperson wrote, “Currently, it is not possible to enable E2E encryption for Zoom video meetings. Zoom video meetings use a combination of TCP and UDP. TCP connections are made using TLS and UDP connections are encrypted with AES using a key negotiated over a TLS connection.”

The encryption that Zoom uses to protect meetings is TLS, the same technology that web servers use to secure HTTPS websites. This means that the connection between the Zoom app running on a user’s computer or phone and Zoom’s server is encrypted in the same way the connection between your web browser and this article (on is encrypted. This is known as transport encryption, which is different from end-to-end encryption because the Zoom service itself can access the unencrypted video and audio content of Zoom meetings. So when you have a Zoom meeting, the video and audio content will stay private from anyone spying on your Wi-Fi, but it won’t stay private from the company. (In a statement, Zoom said it does not directly access, mine, or sell user data; more below.)

For a Zoom meeting to be end-to-end encrypted, the video and audio content would need to be encrypted in such a way that only the participants in the meeting have the ability to decrypt it. The Zoom service itself might have access to encrypted meeting content, but wouldn’t have the encryption keys required to decrypt it (only meeting participants would have these keys) and therefore, would not have the technical ability to listen in on your private meetings. This is how end-to-end encryption in messaging apps like Signal work: The Signal service facilitates sending encrypted messages between users, but doesn’t have the encryption keys required to decrypt those messages and therefore, can’t access their unencrypted content.

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Mayors are pleading with their Republican governors to follow the science and shut down states over the coronavirus Eliza Relman2020-03-31T00:12:07Z

Mayors across the country are on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus, but several Republican governors are being accused of slow-walking or even undermining local officials’ efforts.

By Monday, at least 29 states had put statewide “stay at home” orders in place, meaning more than two-thirds of US residents are ordered to stay home except for essential activities, including medical appointments and grocery shopping. But major states like Texas and Florida have so far refused.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, has refrained from publicly criticizing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, but insisted in an interview with Insider that the expert advice he’s gotten demands a robust, aggressive response. Last Tuesday, Turner and the county judge ordered all Houstonians to stay inside.

The mayor said the medical and scientific evidence and advice presented to him before he decided to shut his city down were “so overwhelming that you just couldn’t ignore that.”

“I don’t know what information the governor may have received or been given, but based on the information and the facts and the strong recommendation being made by the medical community in a unanimous way, to not impose a ‘stay at home’ order I think would have been going against the facts and the advice and the science,” he told Insider in a phone interview.

Turner argued that if the state doesn’t act cohesively, it will hurt the efforts he and other Texas mayors have made to slow the spread in their cities.

“We recognize that whatever you do in one jurisdiction, if it’s not done in other jurisdictions then it weakens the overall impact,” he said. “We have to work together.”

Turner stressed that if he had waited even a day longer, it might have been too late to contain the spread in his city.

“What I’m being told is the best time to implement these aggressive stay home, work safe orders is when the numbers are relatively lower,” he said.

Critics have pointed out that while Abbott is urging local officials to devise their own individual responses to the public health crisis, he’s long lamented the patchwork of laws and regulations that result from allowing local officials to govern themselves.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a conservative Republican, declared last week that “lots of grandparents” are willing to sacrifice themselves to COVID-19 if it means the economy can get back up and running more quickly.

“My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Patrick told Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “I don’t want the whole country to be sacrificed.”

Sylvester Turner houston
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks with the media during a business forum in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. The forum was attended by business representatives from Houston and Havana, to explore opportunities in areas of health, sports, energy, commerce and art, according to local state-run media Cubadebate.
Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate/AP

Patrick’s comments provoked widespread backlash. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg slammed Patrick.

“It’s easy for someone of power and privilege to say something so callous,” Nirenberg said.

Turner similarly took issue with the argument.

“That’s a false choice and will not help to move us through this crisis in such a way that when we come out of it we are stronger and more resilient,” he said. “You can’t just look at what steps you need to take while you’re in this crisis, you also have to make sure that the steps and the things that you say today will not work against you when you come out of it and you’ll have a more divided society.”

There are 232 confirmed coronavirus cases in Houston, but because of a severe shortage of tests, the mayor said he’s operating under the assumption that hundreds, if not thousands, of Houstonians are infected.

“Frankly, I kind of take that number in my own mind and multiply it by 10,” Turner said.

Manicures are deemed ‘essential’ in Arizona

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for weeks rejected calls from his own local officials to issue a statewide shelter in place order and undermined those officials’ ability to make their own decisions. On Monday afternoon, the Republican was finally forced to issue a “stay at home” order after nine Arizona mayors signed a letter demanding he do so. It goes into effect on Tuesday at 5 p.m. local time.

Major Arizona cities including Phoenix and Flagstaff were the first to take action to staunch the spread of the virus by ordering the closure of bars, while limiting restaurants to take-out in mid-March. The move pressured Ducey to do the same a few days later in all counties with confirmed infections.

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What you need to know about stalkerware | Eva Galperin Ted Talks Mar 30, 2020

“Full access to a person’s phone is the next best thing to full access to a person’s mind,” says cybersecurity expert Eva Galperin. In an urgent talk, she describes the emerging danger of stalkerware — software designed to spy on someone by gaining access to their devices without their knowledge — and calls on antivirus companies to recognize these programs as malicious in order to discourage abusers and protect victims.